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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Renewable Energy Growth Is Capping Emissions Despite Coal’s Comeback

  • As natural gas prices have soared around the world, countries have been forced to turn to coal which has led to an increase in global emissions. 
  • According to one think tank, however, new hydropower, wind, and solar power generation capacity accounted for all the additional electricity demand in the first half of the year.
  • Droughts and heat waves hit hydropower generation hard this year, further hurting global attempts to reduce emissions.

Much of the world is experiencing an energy shortage that is feeding inflation and hampering economic growth. As a result of this energy shortage, coal demand has bounced back and driven global emissions higher. It isn’t all bad news though, with plenty of low-emissions energy sources coming online as well. 

An environmentalist think tank this week reported that hydropower, wind, and solar power generating capacity accounted for all the additional electricity demand that emerged during the first half of the year. And this means that a certain amount of emissions was avoided.

“The growth in wind and solar in the first half of 2022 prevented a 4% increase in fossil generation. This avoided $40 billion USD in fuel costs and 230 Mt CO2 in emissions,” the author of the study by Ember, Malgorzata Wiatros-Motyka, said.

Fossil fuel generation also rose in total, by 5 TWh, but that paled in comparison to the growth in wind, solar, and hydro, which stood at an additional 416 TWh in the first half of the year. For context, global electricity demand grew by 389 TWh in the period, Ember also noted.

Yet even Ember has acknowledged that the return to coal is already boosting emissions. This return was prompted by the gas price crisis that started in Europe but has now spread to Asia and is beginning to be felt in the U.S. as well. As part of tackling record gas prices, countries have turned to coal as a cheaper alternative. And coal is the highest emitter among fossil fuels.

The increase became noticeable in July and August, but emissions recorded a rise over the first eight months of the year, at 1.7 percent. And this was a 1.7-percent increase from a record high emitted last year.

“This happened because China’s hydro surplus turned into deficit due to record droughts, and heatwaves struck across the world, pushing up electricity demand,” Wiatros-Motyka said in the news release on the report.

Droughts and heat waves were not limited to China, either. Droughts in Europe aggravated France’s problems with nuclear power generation, for example, and caused a drop in hydropower generation in California during the period of peak demand in the summer.

Despite the good news, then, it appears that we are nowhere near reducing emissions consistently. Indeed, another recent report, from the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research, or EDGAR, found that after global emissions dropped during the first year of the pandemic and the lockdowns, in 2021, the trend quickly reversed, and emissions rose nearly all the way back to pre-pandemic levels.

That same report noted that the usual suspects continue to be the biggest emitters, including the United States, China, Russia, India, Japan, and the European Union. These countries together accounted for 70 percent of global emissions last year. This year, some of them will see an increase in this contribution as they turn from gas to oil and coal.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund came out with a report saying that although the short-term costs of the energy transition would be substantial, they would be nothing compared to the long-term costs of not having the transition. And the sooner the transition happens, the cheaper it will be.

“If the right measures are implemented immediately and phased in over the next eight years, the costs will be small,” two IMF officials wrote this week. “However, if the transition to renewables is delayed, the costs will be much greater.”

At the same time, the IMF was among those warning that the transition could get delayed because of a looming shortage of various essential materials such as copper, lithium, and cobalt, to name but a few.

The tightness of supply is also making the transition costlier, too, regardless of the speed with which relevant legislation is implemented.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • Mamdouh Salameh on October 06 2022 said:
    This is a hotchpotch report of flawed justifications, unsubstantiated claims and unanswered questions by an environmental think tank who has vested interest in polishing the image of renewables and energy transition.

    How could growth in wind and solar in the first half of 2022 prevent a 4% increase in fossil generation when coal use alone rose by 44% in the second half of 2022?

    The fact that global emissions dropped during the first year of the pandemic and the lockdowns is because of the huge decline in the consumption of fossil fuels and not because of the growth of renewables. This is proven by the fact that emissions rose in 2021 to pre-pandemic levels with the rise of fossil consumption.

    Moreover, the drive toward net-zero emissions has been retarded by many years as the result of the surge in coal use.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Global Energy Expert

Leave a comment




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